You may have noticed I’ve been away for a while. My return here is but momentary. You see it turns out when you have a job you’re interested in, and one that requires your full attention and more, your time for cooking, let alone photographing food and writing recipes shrinks. Rather considerably. Don’t get me wrong, I love working out which glasses Corton-Charlemagne should be served in as much as the next person (Chardonnay glasses because it’s white, unlike Corton, which is always red) but it means that other pursuits get squeezed and thus, unable to devote as much attention to this little space as I would like, I am taking a break. Not a permanent one I hope; just until the New Year for now, to allow me time to settle into my new job, devote myself fully to all the additional training and learning required and generally recentre. This is not to say that my cooking adventures will cease. Far from it; with an exciting career move into an area that occupies much of my waking thoughts (namely food and wine) I am surrounded by new sources of inspiration at work, not least a ridiculously skilled kitchen team who work wonders on humble ingredients. I aim to continue stretching myself in the kitchen and hope to return in the new Olympic year with plenty of new recipes, photos and, I suspect, kitchen disaster stories to tell. For now, I leave you with a beautiful seasonal bridging recipe, one that combines the end of the (Indian) summer’s fruits and herbs, with autumn’s bubbling and baked goods into one amazing dish that tastes of mini Cheddars. And if that doesn’t sell it to you, frankly, you’re just weird.
Adapted lightly from Lottie and Doof
1 large white onion, sliced into strips
500g cherry or other tomatoes, halved or chopped into chunks
2 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons basil leaves, roughly torn
1 teaspoon crushed red chillies
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 cup gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grated cheddar
1/4 cup grated parmesan
150ml single cream
More cheese for sprinkling on top
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. In a small baking dish put the sliced onion, tomatoes, garlic and basil. Sprinkle with the crushed chillies, some salt and black pepper, and drizzle with the olive oil.
2. To make the topping, stir the gluten-free flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt together in a bowl. Chop the butter into small chunks and rub into the flour mixture with your fingertips, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the cheddar and parmesan, and most of the cream, then bring together with a fork. Add the rest of the cream, or enough to make a sticky, but not runny, mixture.
3. Spoon this mixture on top of the tomatoes and onions in big dollops, leaving a small space in the centre of the cobble for steam to escape. Flatten any obvious peaks in the topping, so they don’t burn, then sprinkle more parmesan on top. Then transfer the dish to the oven to bake for 45-50 minutes, or until browned on top, and tomato juice can be seen bubbling at the sides.
4. Remove from the oven, leave to cool for 5 minutes, and serve with a green salad and reminiscences of summer.
I have, until now, rebelled against making my own ice cream. I refused to get an ice cream maker, thinking (rightly so, in my opinion) that they are a one-use item that take up far too much space. Plus it just seemed too, well, indulgent, to make something with nothing but double cream, eggs, sugar and milk. Something which will then, most likely, be eaten in one sitting. Now however I am proud to say I am a convert. Homemade ice cream is a revelation. That could well be because double cream, eggs and sugar are a whole lot more expensive than whey powder and the various gums that most ice creams are made with. Or it could be because for my first foray into ice cream I chose to make marzipan swirl ice cream. Either way it was beyond fantastic and there is now very little left after I took spoon to tub while sat in front of Julie & Julia, a film that is guaranteed to make you want to eat. Lots. May I suggest making this ice cream for a reason, a particular event or recipe, because having it sat in the freezer is, quite frankly, a terrible idea.
Marzipan swirl ice cream
From Love and Olive Oil
5o0ml double cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
3 drops almond extract
For the almond paste
50g ground almonds
25g powdered sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
50ml double cream
1. In a medium saucepan over a medium heat stir together 250ml of the double cream, the milk, sugar and salt.
2. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolks and then spoon in a tablespoon of the warm milk to temper the egg yolks, whisking all the time. Add roughly a quarter of the warmed milk/cream mixture to the egg yolks, then pour the whole lot back into the saucepan and stir for 5-7 minutes or until the mixture thickens slightly, to the consistency of a very runny custard. Remove the pan from the heat.
3. Stir in the 3 drops of almond essence, just enough to make the mixture taste tantalisingly, beguilingly of almonds, but not overwhelm the custard. Then whisk in the remaining 250ml double cream and leave the custard to cool in a tub overnight in the fridge.
4. To make the ice cream pour the chilled custard into a large, wide tub, with a large surface area and freeze for a minimum of 3 hours. Every half hour, remove the custard from the freezer and stir it with a spatula vigorously and thoroughly, to break up any crystals that have formed, before returning it to the freezer.
5. Meanwhile, make the almond paste by stirring together the ground almonds, powdered sugar, lemon juice and egg in a pan to create a sticky paste. Pour over the cream and over a low heat stir until the past dissolves into the cream. Set aside to cool.
6. Once the ice cream has reached the consistency of soft, well, ice cream, spoon roughly 1/3 of it into a smaller storage tub. Drizzle some of the almond swirl on top, then add more ice cream. Alternate until both have been used up and you have a suitably layered and swirled dessert. Return the tub to the freezer for another hour at least, or up to a month or more, before diving in.
Makes a couple of pints, though this is highly dependent on how much of the custard you, ahem, “test” before getting to the freezing stage. And when I say test I definitely don’t mean dipping a ladle into the custard and tipping it into your mouth. No. That would be grotesque.
I don’t really want to fall into the trap of short posts and unoriginal notes on the nature of dinner and cooking after work. We all understand. Some days you need something that will come together in 5 minutes or less; other days we just need a takeaway. When it’s the former and not the latter you could do worse than this cheeky little dish. Taken from stonesoup, a blog devoted to recipes with 5 ingredients or fewer (you’d be amazed how many recipes that encompasses), this is a nutritious dish that seems like random, healthy foods just thrown together, but when you eat it you realise you’ve unwittingly cooked yourself a proper meal. It’s fab. Perfect for those evenings when you’ve come in from tasting 30 19th century wines. Or something.
Lentil and smoked salmon hash
250g (about 2/3 of a 400g can) of puy lentils, cooked if they’re dried
100g smoked salmon trimmings
100g rocket leaves
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1. Heat a drizzle of oil in a frying pan. Add the smoked salmon trimmings and cook for a couple of minutes, just until they turn opaque. Add the lentils and cook for another minute, or until warmed through.
2. Add the rocket leaves to the pan, then the vinegar and lemon juice. Toss so everything is mixed together, then serve immediately. Eat, enjoy, feel full, and marvel at how well you can feed yourself in a hurry.
Named, apparently, for the tiny oblong tins these should be baked in, financiers, when made correctly, resemble gold ingots. Personally, I don’t find that thought all that appetising. Which is why mine resemble tiny little cupcakes with a blackberry smooshed into the top of each one. Much more appealing, and to my mind much more dainty. I just can’t reconcile the image of elegant Parisian ladies delicately nibbling big, heavy bars of gold with their afternoon coffee.
The wonderful thing about financiers is they are almost gluten free already, only requiring a couple of tablespoons of flour to accompany the ground almonds. Even better, they only use egg whites, not egg yolks, so when you are fed up of making meringues to use up all those leftover egg whites you have from making custards, ice creams and all sorts of rich cakes, make financiers instead.
From Joy of Baking
60g ground almonds
30g gluten-free flour blend
40g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
4 egg whites, lightly whisked
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Put the butter in a saucepan and allow to melt over a low heat. Once it has all melted turn the heat up to medium and allow to bubble for a couple of minutes, until the milk solids separate, fall to the bottom of the pan, and turn medium to dark brown. Set aside to cool a little.
2. Preheat the oven to 200 C. Butter a 12-hole bun tin with plenty of butter. In a large bowl stir together the ground almonds, gluten-free flour, icing sugar and salt. Gently fold in the lightly whisked egg whites and the vanilla extract. Very slowly whisk in the browned butter, then spoon the mixture into the bun tin, filling each hole almost to the top.
3. Bake the financiers for 4 minutes, then remove from the oven and working quickly press a blackberry into the top of each one, so it just breaks the surface. Return to the oven for 7 more minutes until golden brown on top.
4. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then lever out and serve on a dainty little plate. Pretend you’re Parisian and eat them with French accent.
Makes 12-15. Best eaten the day they’re made, though they last a couple of days in an airtight tin at room temperature.
On my tiny little corner of England stands a handful of planters. These are never going to combat world hunger, but they are a start. An attempt at growing my own food, of becoming more closely connected to the cycle that sustains us all, and appreciating just how vicious whitefly can be and why most farmers use an unholy amount of pesticides on their crops. It’s also made me appreciate my vegetables a little more. I never before understood just how long it takes to nurture and care for vegetables as they grow, to water and feed them at the right times and protect them from pests and wind so that finally, one day, they are ready for eating. Last year I mastered spring onions, tomatoes and spinach; all crops that require minimal skill or knowledge and a mere modicum of actual babysitting. This year I added cauliflower to my repertoire. Sadly, as my planters are not very large, I was limited to two cauliflowers. Just two. For a plant that takes roughly four-to-six months to grow from seed to fully formed vegetable. Six months to nurture from a tiny seedling, to planting out, to watching the tightly curled curds form to taking a big knife and hacking it down for the pot. Such a beautiful journey required a fitting dish, one that highlighted the magnificence of this vegetable.
Ahem. What I’m trying to say is I made cauliflower cheese. And it was good.
Cauliflower is a delicate vegetable at heart; if you overcook it, it will go mushy. Equally, its flavour is very mild, verging on bland. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff but you need a couple of supporting flavours to round it all out and stop it from being too one-dimensional. The nutmeg and mustard are key; don’t scrimp.
1 large cauliflower, leaves removed (serve them alongside braised in a little butter), cut into florets
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 pint (568ml) milk
4 tablespoons medium cheddar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard (check it’s gluten free)
1 tablespoon mature cheddar
1 tablespoon gluten-free breadcrumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop the cauliflower florets in. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile in a small saucepan melt the butter over a medium heat. Whisk in the cornflour and cook for a minute, or until it thickens to a paste. Then slowly, stirring constantly, add the milk. Stir until the mixture starts to bubble and thickens to a thick, custardy consistency. Add a little more milk if necessary, then stir in a little salt, black pepper and the medium cheddar, ground nutmeg and wholegrain mustard. Add the cooked cauliflower to the saucepan and stir to coat the florets in sauce. Then tip the whole lot out into a small (I used a 4×6-inch oval) ovenproof baking dish.
3. Sprinkle the mature cheddar and breadcrumbs on top of the cauliflower cheese and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are medium brown. Serve immediately but be warned, it will be very hot in the middle.
Serves 2 as a main meal.
Or how to make dinner when the fridge is bare. Not that the fridge is ever bare, but say it were, you could dive into the cupboards and use up one or more of those cans of pulses you’ve been stockpiling for a rainy day/riot in dinner. As my working/cooking/eating routine is going to be turned upside down over the next few months, I’ve been trying out quick and filling recipes that don’t require fresh ingredients, for those days when I crawl home late and tired, too busy to draw up a carefully planned out shopping list, which takes into account the shelf life of all fresh ingredients, and uses them all up without leftovers. Sometimes life gets in the way of such neat and organised plans.
So pulses. If you buy them tinned you don’t have to pre-soak or pre-cook these, which is great. I’m sure they don’t taste quite as good as the “real” thing, but at the end of the day they are chickpeas, not highly processed meat. When I first looked at the recipe I was expecting the dish to taste very highly spiced, aggressively sweet and spicy and a little overpowering, but the balance of all the different spices in the dish works very well; the result is surprisingly subtle, gently warming and interesting but not aggressive.
From Dinner with Julie
I was intending to serve this with some brown rice on the side, but it actually made more than enough for two people as a meal on its own, and the chickpeas make it pleasingly filling.
1 small red onion, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 400g can tomatoes
1 large handful of raisins
1 400g can of chickpeas
1 red pepper, diced
1 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
Juice of half a lime
1. In a large saucepan heat a drizzle of oil and fry the onion until it softens, about 2 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger and fry for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the minced garlic clove and cook for a further couple of minutes.
2. Once the garlic starts to brown add the chopped tomatoes and raisins and bring to a simmer. Add the chickpeas, red pepper, mint leaves and chopped parsley and stir well. Season with lime juice and a good three-fingered pinch of salt and simmer for 10-15 minutes so the flavours have time to develop.
Serve with more parsley sprinkled over the top. Serves 2.
Rhubarb is rarely elegant. When growing it is generally rampant, with solid, ribbed stems and aggressively bushy heads. When cooked it disintegrates quickly into soft, stringy strands, of an unappealing green. Poached though, lightly cooked in a boiling syrup for a minute or two, it retains its shape, with just the tiniest bite to it. The colours are more nuanced too, with the pinker pieces standing out against the murkier green ones, adding a flash of colour. The result is almost dainty. Served with yoghurt or a tiny shortbread biscuit this makes an elegant dessert for those of you with rhubarb stashed in your freezer.
From Chocolate and Zucchini
5 tablespoons sugar
1 head lemon verbena
4 sticks rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch chunks
1. In a small saucepan dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to a boil. Add the lemon verbena and carefully spoon the rhubarb pieces into the syrup, about 6 at a time, and poach for 2-3 minutes (4 if frozen) or until they give under a spoon but are still in tact. Remove with a slotted spoon and repeat with the remaining rhubarb.
Serves 2. Serve with yoghurt or shortbread. The poaching syrup can be used in cocktails.